Press Release

Public Engagement Prize Goes to Sheila Kanani & Traveling Telescope

By SpaceRef Editor
September 22, 2020
Filed under , ,

The 2020 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science is awarded jointly to Dr. Sheila Kanani and to the team behind The Travelling Telescope, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen.

Dr. Sheila Kanani is a planetary physicist, broadcaster, comedian, author and teacher, with a background in research as part of the Cassini science team, studying Saturn’s magnetosphere. She is the co-founder of the STEMMsisters charity, a STEM ambassador and a representative of ScienceGrrl. Since 2014, she has been the Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), where she has transformed the public engagement activity of the Society, delivering a comprehensive programme across the UK, concentrating on areas of socioeconomic deprivation and cultural diversity. She has written five non-fiction books for children, including two space themed books, and has just signed to write a further two science books for children.

Since establishing The Travelling Telescope in 2014, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen have enabled hundreds of thousands of children to engage with planetary science and astronomy by bringing a portable 12-inch telescope, an inflatable planetarium and outreach resources to remote and underserved regions of Kenya. In January 2020, they completed the construction of the first digital planetarium in East Africa. The Nairobi Planetarium has been built in a low-cost and environmentally sustainable way using bamboo harvested at the site. Susan Murabana is the president of the newly formed Africa Planetarium Association and the United Nations Space4Women mentor 2020.

José Antonio Gordillo Martorell, Chair of the Europlanet Outreach Jury, said, “This is the first time that we have awarded two Europlanet Prizes for Public Engagement in the same year. Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescope have both made outstanding contributions to reaching diverse communities, showing profound personal commitment and innovative approaches to inspiring young people through planetary science and astronomy. We are delighted to have two such worthy winners.”

An awards ceremony will take place during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020 virtual meeting today and this will be followed by 15-minute prize lectures by the winners. Both winners will receive an award of 4,000 Euros.

Dr. Becky Parker, Chair of the Education and Outreach Committee of the RAS, said: “I cannot think of any person more actively engaged in promoting physics and astronomy than Sheila. Collaborators all value her clear and purposeful determination to raise the profile of physics and astronomy and develop engagement in a number of new ways, always thinking about how to support teachers and students. In this extraordinary time of COVID 19, she has been incredibly innovative, providing online activities, teacher training, national activities. Her commitment to such a range of public engagement activities well beyond her day job is phenomenal.”

Dr. Mark SubbaRao, President of the International Planetarium Society, said: “Susan and Chu are advocates for astronomy and planetary science education across Africa. The Travelling Telescope is an incredibly important model for Africa, where it is difficult to rely on support from government, or private donations. Whether in the planetarium or at the eyepiece of the telescope, I was struck with the enthusiasm and passion with which Chu and Susan communicated science to everyone from world leaders to small children. I also saw how they hired and mentored many local astronomy students, nurturing the next generation of Kenyan scientists and outreach professionals.”

Dr. Sheila Kanani said: “I’m honoured and quite speechless to win this award, especially in being able to share it with such esteemed colleagues in Africa. I’ve always been entirely supported in my endeavours by my family and friends, which has led me to want to support others to be part of the wonderful world of astronomy. Being able to include the space diversity aspects into my job has also been extremely fulfilling, after all, we all share the same sky and earth, so I hope I can help others enjoy space as it has so inspired me!”

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement:
The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science ( aims to recognise achievements in engaging European citizens with planetary science and to raise the profile of outreach within the scientific community. Established by Europlanet in 2010, the Prize is awarded to individuals or groups who have developed innovative practices in planetary science communication and whose efforts have significantly contributed to a wider public engagement with planetary science. The prize is funded by the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure under grant agreement No 871149.

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020:
EPSC ( will take place as a virtual meeting for the first time in 2020 from 21 September to 9 October. The meeting has a hybrid format of asynchronous presentations and discussion alongside a programme of live webinars. The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.

About Europlanet:
Since 2005, Europlanet ( has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC). The Europlanet Media Centre issues media releases on the activities of Europlanet Society, the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure, the Europlanet Science Congress, and results from planetary science partner organisations.

SpaceRef staff editor.